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If you are always trying to change the bad habits of the person you are dating, maybe it’s time to move on to someone else.

A woman came for therapy because she had just learned that her boyfriend of several months was still involved with his old girlfriend.

When I asked what she wanted from therapy, she said, “I want the guy to give up his girlfriend and commit to me.”

Since I wasn’t sure if her goal was in her best interest, I asked if she would tell me more about this man as well as her dating history with other men. I learned she had been married twice. Her first husband left her for another woman, and she left her second husband because he was an alcoholic. She then had a long-term relationship with a man who was always on the verge of bankruptcy. “I got fed up with paying all the bills,” she said, “so one day I kicked him out.”

After talking with her about her past relationships, I said my best advice was for her to explore why she kept getting involved with men who left her, either emotionally or physically. I also thought another goal of therapy should be that she would come to like and respect herself enough to move away from any relationship that spelled trouble.

Her situation reminded me of a woman I had seen several months previously. She had come to therapy because she wanted to straighten out a man she had recently met. He had stood her up for their first date and was a half hour late for the second date. Her goal was to teach him to be more responsible. Here, too, my advice was to drop the guy, spend her energies learning to like herself more, and look for a healthier relationship with someone who didn’t discount her.

Certainly when you’re looking for a mate and find someone that you’re attracted to, it’s tempting to ignore the obvious. But pursuing a relationship that is probably bound for disaster is not in your best interest. Here are some danger signs to watch for:

* He’s heavily in debt.

* He can’t hold a job.

* She drinks too much.

* She has no friends.

* He’s rude to the waitress, the car mechanic, the store clerk.

* He’s always finding fault with others or with you.

* He flirts with other women which drives you crazy.

* She’s possessive, wants all of your time, and tries to exclude your friends and family.

* She lies.

* He has a bad temper.

* He’s a sports addict and you hate sports.

* He’s Mr. Frugal and you like to spend.

* You want children and he wants no part of them.

* She has a child by a previous marriage and you dislike this child.

* He’s a slob and you’re a neat nick.

Do yourself a favor. If you’re dating someone and there are signs that you’re headed for difficulties, move on. Don’t get hung up with trying to change the person. Remember that no matter how eager you are to find a fulfilling relationship, “the light you see at the end of the tunnel may be an oncoming train.”

Check out Doris’ latest books, “The Boy Whose Idea Could Feed the World” as well as, “The Parent Teacher Discussion Guide” and “Thin Becomes You”.

Doris’ web page: www.doriswildhelmering.com

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Sometimes when you want your spouse to be more of a conversationalist, it is your questions and responses that may get the ball rolling.

How do you get your spouse to start talking, open up, communicate?

Many couples find that after they’ve lived together for some years they feel they have little to talk about or share. It’s not that they don’t want to talk to each other. They just don’t know how to start the ball rolling or they’re out of practice.

Here are a few suggestions to get those lines of communication flowing:

When your mate says something, come back with a comment that indicates you’ve heard him and you support his thinking. For example, if he says, “This would be a great day for golf,” you might respond with, “Yes, it’s beautiful out.” If he says, “I think I need to get some mulch for the flower beds,” you might say, “That sounds good. Do you want any help?”

If your spouse starts talking about a particular issue or problem, stop what you’re doing, look at him, and listen. Nod. Make comments such as, “Oh… that’s great… how terrible… unbelievable.” Also make “reflective listening” remarks that show you are listening and trying to understand. “Sounds as though you were feeling overwhelmed.” “I guess you were really disappointed.” It sounds like you took the bull by the horns.”

Instead of hitting your mate day in and day out with that tired old question, “How was your day?” say, “Tell me what you did today.” It’s likely you’ll get much more information with the second tactic.

When trying to reopen lines of communication, be extra careful not to be critical, or move into a problem-solving mode, or take over the conversation. These responses will usually stop the discussion. I find that most people will talk if they feel supported.

Be aware, too, of what topics of conversation you bring to the table. If your topics are generally about housekeeping and scheduling issues such as what bills need to be paid or who is going to take Tommy to swim practice, you’re not adding to the quality of your conversations.

Topics you might discuss include a health or political article you read in a magazine or an interview you heard on the radio. You might also share the story line of a book you’re reading. When I’m busy writing a book, I have few spare moments to read. During these times my husband will tell me about the novel he’s currently reading.

Be conscious also of how much self-disclosing you do. Do you share with your mate when something goes wrong on the job? Do you tell her when something exciting happens? Sharing the little pleasures and sadnesses of your life invites your mate to do the same.

Another thing to be aware of is where and when might you have your best conversations. Some couples talk over that second cup of coffee after dinner. Others do better when they walk together. Some save their talk time for when they’re in bed. I know one couple who telephone each other several times a day to share bits and pieces of their lives. Try to establish several times and places for talking with your mate.

With determination and effort, you can reopen those lines of communication in less than two weeks. This mutual openness will make your marriage stronger, more interesting and fun.

Check out Doris’ latest books, “The Boy Whose Idea Could Feed the World” as well as, “The Parent Teacher Discussion Guide” and “Thin Becomes You”.

Doris’ web page: www.doriswildhelmering.com

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Having happy children may take some extra work, but the rewards are immeasurable.
Are your children happy?

Even though happiness is genetically linked, only about 50 percent of happiness is driven by genes. The other 50 percent is driven by what happens to a child on a daily basis.

One of the most important contributors to a child’s happiness is doing things as a family. Nothing feels so good as when a family goes biking or hiking or spends part of the day at the zoo.

I know one family who has designated Wednesday nights as family night. This is the night nothing interferes. They have dinner and then play board games. Even the 17-year old participates. “Once you set a night and stick to it month after month, year after year, it becomes the expectation,” says the mother, “and our children look forward to it.”

Another happiness ingredient is working together. Spending four hours cleaning the backyard, the basement, and the house each Saturday morning, encourages a feeling of camaraderie and a sense of being part of the team. We’re a family. We’re in this together. “One for all and all for one.”

Research shows that children tend to be happier when parents set expectations and rules. Children do better when they have a set bedtime and when they are expected to do certain chores each week, pick up after themselves, control their language, and show respect for other family members. When parents have expectations, it conveys to a child that he has worth. And meeting these expectations helps a child feel more in control of his own destiny.

Feeling happy and content is also a by-product of feeling loved. Pats on the back from parents and “I love yous” sprinkled throughout the week are essential. And applause for a job well done recognizes a child’s accomplishments.

Happiness involves living in the present. Everyday should be a time to build family relationships. This means: “Let’s talk as we do dishes.” “Let’s put on a CD and dance.” “Let’s watch a movie and enjoy each other’s company.” Too often parents put happiness till later, saying, “Next weekend when go to your cousins…” or when we go on vacation….”

Children feel happier if they have God in their life. God is someone to talk to when they feel anxious and stressed. Or when no matter how good they try to be, they can’t change something in their lives.

Children are happier if family members get along and are respectful of each other. This means no screaming matches, no name-calling, no constant criticisms. Nor should a parent use a child as a confidante, telling him the other parent is not okay. It also means an older or younger sibling is not allowed to tyrannize the family.

If you want to raise a happy child, ask yourself if you are following these guidelines. And if you’re lacking in some areas, now’s the time to make changes. Most parents want to raise and live with a happy child. Following these guidelines, spells success.

Check out Doris’ latest books, “The Boy Whose Idea Could Feed the World” as well as, “The Parent Teacher Discussion Guide” and “Thin Becomes You”.

Doris’ web page: www.doriswildhelmering.com

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One morning I was on my way to the computer to write my first column since vacation when I heard my husband singing in the shower. I sat quietly in the hall, sipped my coffee, and listened. He’d sing, then he’d whistle some of the melody, and then he’d sing a few more lines. It was pretty wonderful. He has a nice voice. But what brought a smile to my heart was how happy and content he was.

As I went to get myself that second cup of coffee, I glanced at our bookcases, which I had dusted and straightened the day before. Then I moseyed into the closet to admire my organizational and cleaning abilities.

By the time I clicked on the computer and the little cursor was jumping in front of me, I had changed my idea for the column. “I’ll write on anger another time,” I thought. “Today I’ll write on pausing, pausing to note the little things in life that so often get brushed over and rushed by.”

One wall of my office is cork board. It is convenient for hanging story ideas, school calendars, jokes, funny and philosophical cards people have sent me, and family pictures I can’t bear to put away.

In one section on the wall I have all of my daughter’s school pictures. I love to look at the way she has changed and grown from year to year. First there are the big smiles of pre-kindergarten and early grade school. Then there are the years of shyness and tentativeness in front of the camera. And then a more mature face and a big friendly smile.

Looking around this room, there are so many pleasures. My coffee mug made by a St. Louis potter. The shape, the feel, the coloring, the handle – it’s so right. I’ve been drinking coffee from it for years.

One of my favorite cards on the wall shows a large green and orange fish swimming in the water. A white rabbit dressed in a purple dress is hanging for dear life on the back of the fish. Above the picture is written, “Life can be a slippery fish.” How often that picture has helped me put things in perspective.

I have a globe on a stand in my office. It was a gift from a dear friend. Years ago the two of us were shopping in a stationery store when we came across some globes. I shared with her that when I was in grade school I would have given anything to own a globe. That Christmas my attentive friend surprised me with one. I like to spin it. I like the feel of it. Last week I used it to check out the spelling of Caribbean.

There’s an electric pencil sharpener on my desk. When I use it I become a little girl fascinated at how it can sharpen a pencil.

A handmade doll sits on one of the chairs. Her name is Emily. My friend Jeanine made her for me. Emily has on a blue and white dress with tiny white buttons. I never had a doll when I was a little girl. Maybe that’s why Emily has won such a place in my heart.

Hanging on the wall is a list of things I wanted to accomplish this past year. Unlike other years when I have checked off only half my list, this year I’ve already checked almost every item. Perhaps I was kinder to myself when I made out the list the first week in January. I didn’t give myself so many tasks to accomplish.

Other items in my office have special meaning for me: A carved bird, a small statue of a little girl, photos of flowers, a picture of one son in his football jersey, another son in his bathing suit.

Pause for a few minutes today. Listen. Look. Take note. Appreciate.

Check out Doris’ latest books, “The Boy Whose Idea Could Feed the World” as well as, “The Parent Teacher Discussion Guide” and “Thin Becomes You”.

Doris’ web page: www.doriswildhelmering.com

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Dear Beth and Mat,

Happy Wedding Day! Since within a few hours the two of you will be taking your wedding vows, I decided that a little counsel might be in order. As you know, through my work I’ve watched a lot of happy couples interact with each other and I’ve worked with a lot of couples struggling to make their marriages better. Each couple has taught me a lesson about marriage. Here’s some of what I’ve learned.

No two people are alike. Now you’ve probably heard that before. But sometimes when we hear something so often, we forget the essence. What this means is that the two of you will sometimes see some things differently. Beth, you may want to use your extra money to buy furniture. Mat, you may want to use it to go on vacation. One of you may want to get up early and get going while the other wants to sleep late and enjoy a quiet morning. One of you may be a talker and an analyzer, but the other may be more quiet. One of you may be acutely aware of your feelings. The other may not be aware of them at all. Remember, neither of you is right or wrong. You are simply different. Some differen­ces are genetic. Some you learned from your families as you were growing up. These differ­ences make each of you unique. Be aware of them, smile and laugh about them, work to accept them.

Be generous with your praise. Right now you are probably telling each other how attractive you are. The two of you are exchanging a lot of hugs and smiles and “I love yous.” These compliments helped you fall in love. If you give them daily, they will keep you in love.

Be cautious with your criticism. Married people sometimes begin to think they have a right to critique their partner or to make helpful suggestions. Keep it to one criticism every two weeks and your partner will feel safe and want to be in your presence.

Know your own flaws and correct them so they don’t interfere with your marriage. If you are always late, decide from now on to be on time. If you get too mad, work on your temper.

Listen. Listen. Listen to your partner talk without interrupting. Listen to his or her feelings. Listen when he’s happy, when she’s disappointed, when he’s scared.

Enjoy love making. Accept your partner’s approach and approach your partner. Have fun and be generous in bed.

If you step on your partner’s feelings, say you’re sorry. Recognize that you have erred. Remember, it’s easier to love someone who admits mistakes.

Play together. Continue to develop interests…back-packing, dancing, cards, tennis. Develop a group of friends that will bring additional energy to your marriage.

Be respectful. In marriage there is no room for screaming, or name calling, or refusing to talk, or threatening divorce.

Keep in touch with your families. Let them be of comfort to you and share your joys and sadnesses. But, remember, each of you now should come first with the other.

Both of you are very much in love today. Choose to live in such a way that your love will last forever.

YOUR FRIEND,

DORIS

Check out Doris’ latest books, “The Boy Whose Idea Could Feed the World” as well as, “The Parent Teacher Discussion Guide” and “Thin Becomes You”.

Doris’ web page: www.doriswildhelmering.com

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She’s been married twice. Now she’s thinking about tying the knot a third time and she wants to know, “How can I tell if he’s Mr. Right? This time I want to be sure I can live happily ever after with him.”

Although there are no absolutes or guarantees to happiness, there are some very specific questions you should answer to help you see beyond that wonderful rush of feelings you get when falling in love.

One thing to assess is what kind of past this person has. If he admits to wild drinking or gambling, wait a few years before saying “I do.” Time will help you determine if he has cleaned up his behavior.

What kind of job history does he have? His eyes may be a gorgeous blue, but you’ll get very tired of looking at him if he isn’t a steady worker.

If he has been married before, why did his marriage break up? Was the breakup caused by cheating on his wife? Was it because he worked sixty hours a week and only focused on his career? People do change, but you’ll want to see the evidence.

Where does this man put the blame for the break up of former relationships? If he sees his former wife or girlfriend as the culprit and shows no awareness of his contributions to their unhappiness, taking responsibility for his mistakes will be difficult for him.

If he has children, look hard at how he relates to them and to their mother. Does he put their needs before his some of the time? Does he put you before his children on occasion? Do his wants come first some of the time? If you answered yes to all three of these questions, chances are he’s able to do a nice balancing act.

How does he handle his anger? If you have watched him fly into a rage behind the wheel or at a restaurant, at some point you, too, will be the target of his anger. Better pass up matrimony until he gets counseling and has his anger under control.

What do you have in common? Does he like to bicycle? Dance? Go to plays? Play board games? Go to movies?

What do you think of his friends? If most of them tend to be obnoxious or boring, look at him again. Is he a bit obnoxious or boring? If he has very few friends, think through why this is so. Maybe he isn’t willing to put out energy for people. If this is the case, it’s predictable that he won’t be putting out a lot of energy for you.

You’ll also want to have a good idea of how he handles money. Is he in debt? Does he overspend? Does he have savings? What financial assets and liabilities will he bring to the marriage? What are each of your expectations about how the money should be handled?

When it comes to paying the bill at a restaurant, do you squirm because you think he’s a bit cheap? If he’s a small tipper or expects you to always split the tab, money will become an issue in your future.

He may be very complimentary to you, but how does he treat his parents, his brothers and sisters, his co-workers? Does he praise or criticize? You don’t want someone who is stingy with compliments and generous with criticisms.

Don’t overlook personal habits. Does he have good manners? Does he pick up his clothes? How does his home look? Is he well groomed?

Name at least ten characteristics that other people would use to describe him.

List his two worst faults. Assuming that he will never change, can you live with these two faults?

If you answer these questions honestly, you’ll know if he’s Mr. Right.

Check out Doris’ latest books, “The Boy Whose Idea Could Feed the World” as well as, “The Parent Teacher Discussion Guide” and “Thin Becomes You”.

Doris’ web page: www.doriswildhelmering.com

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I met a woman at a bridal shower once, and she said she used to read my column and watch me on television. Then she said that the one thing she regrets in her life…that she didn’t go back to work after her children were raised. After all, she had a college degree, she said.

I said, “Go back to work now.”

She laughed and said that she was in her seventies and it was too late.

She then said that a regret her husband had is that he didn’t go to medical school. He was offered a scholarship but opted to sell suits at a local department store for nine dollars a week.

Another woman said that she regrets not going back to school and finishing her education. When she was in her thirties she regretted this; when she was in her forties she regretted it; and now she is in her mid-sixties and she still regrets it.

Then this woman asked me if I had any regrets. I said that actually I had been thinking about this very thing recently, and one thing I regret is that I have baked about 2000 pies since I’ve been married. Everyone laughed when they heard my regret, but I think of all the cholesterol and sugar I have consumed and all the time I could have spent reading novels and being with my children.

Another regret I have thought of since is that I yelled too much at our first child when he forgot his lunch, which was almost daily.

I’d be driving him and his brother to school when he would inform me that he had forgotten his lunch. Since the school didn’t have a cafeteria, I was always faced with deciding whether to go back home for his lunch and be late for work, or take him to school and hope that a hungry stomach would teach him to be more responsible.

Thinking back, I could have gotten around this whole ugly scene, in which I would lecture, he would feel miserable, and then I’d feel guilty. I could have taken it upon myself to bring his lunch. I could have found other ways to teach responsibility besides insisting that he remember his lunch bag.

My daughter forgot her lunch once too. I asked her what she was going to do. She assured me that one of her friends would share her lunch. I said that was nice.

I drove away from her school with no regrets.

Check out Doris’ latest books, “The Boy Whose Idea Could Feed the World” as well as, “The Parent Teacher Discussion Guide” and “Thin Becomes You”.

Doris’ web page: www.doriswildhelmering.com

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